Bicycle helmet use laws are a relatively recent addition to the toolbox of state and local traffic safety countermeasures in the United States. The earliest such laws are less than 15 years old. As of May 2004, 20 states, the District of Columbia, and 131 localities have enacted some form of bicycle helmet use requirement (see Section IX. A. “Helmet Use Laws for Bicycle Riders”). These laws were enacted with varying provisions (some are for minors only, some for all bicyclists) and at different levels of government (state, city, and county jurisdictions).
However, little is known about the passage, enforcement, and effectiveness of bicycle helmet use laws in the United States. Few reviews of these laws are available to detail the different experiences of communities that have considered a legal requirement to increase bicycle helmet use.
This report was designed to investigate some basic questions about bicycle helmet use laws: How do different facets of bicycle helmet use laws influence a law’s effectiveness? Is the effectiveness of bicycle helmet use laws being measured? Which factors may be most significant in increasing the effectiveness of bicycle helmet use laws? Why do some jurisdictions evaluate their laws and others do not? In summary, what is working and why?
This report does not offer definitive answers to these broad questions, but details the experiences of several jurisdictions as examples. This report seeks to recount the experiences of six jurisdictions and to provide some analysis of these different stories. Hopefully, these narratives will illuminate avenues for future study. These compiled experiences may also provide lessons for those who are considering the adoption of a bicycle helmet use law in their community or state.